the cycling anthology, edited by ellis bacon and lionel birnie. peloton publishing. 271pp illus. £7.99

the cycling anthology

as a student, i spent my summers working in the terminal bulding at prestwick airport when it was still scotland's transatlantic gateway. those days of international air-travel from prestwick are now long gone, for it's something of a truism that nobody really wants to go to prestwick itself, hence the slightly misleading moniker glasgow-prestwick. with a change in government policy, the airport, formerly owned by british airports authority was effectively reduced to serving various european countries when international transatlantic flights were moved to glasgow airport at abbotsinch. nowadays, the airport is privately owned and in one of the most bizarre marketing moves ever seen connected to a travel gateway, the airport's slogan, writ large across the terminal and cargo buildings in a rather fractured and grungy script is prestwick's pure dead brilliant a phrase taken from a particularly parochial television comedy.

i'm sure many of the foreigners alighting at and departing from this coastal airport some 30 miles south-west of glasgow, haven't the faintest idea what that phrase means, and who could blame them?

however, in the days of my late teenage years, it was a busy place during the summer months, providing gainful employment for me and many other of my student friends. situated towards the southern end of the terminal was the square proportioned newsagents, half of which did pretty much what it said on the tin, while the other half sold, from what i can remember, a slew of tartan hued souvenirs and items of less than useful apparel. in the days of real lunchbreaks, it was most convenient for the purchase of reading material, and in fact can lay claim to the first opportunity i came across to purchase a copy of the times newspaper, one of britain's more formidable organs prior to its acquisition by the murdoch empire, then pretty much in its infancy compared to today.

it was also the beginning of my intellectual pretensions, misguided thought that has persisted to the present.

i didn't continue with this paper for very long, not so much because of any distaste towards murdoch when he bought it, but because, for some unexplained reason, the new ownership deemed it necessary to not only change the newspaper's character, but also its page layout, rendering it remarkably difficult to read. since this is surely one of the inherent qualities of any decent paper, it seemed a particularly retrograde step.

however, neither man nor student can live by international daily news alone, and my alternative, fictional material came in the shape of a small, perfectly formed american science fiction magazine under the title analog. one of the advantages of working in an international environment was the apparent need to cater to more than just domestic taste, thus magazines and publication from far and wide were deemed appropriate on the newsagent's shelves. as i recall, analog featured no illustrations but simply a phalanx of creative science fiction short stories along with the occasional feature of scientific fact.

the joy of just such a publication was the ability to fip in and out of its writings, often with the ability to conclude the reading of an entire story before it was time to return to that for which i was employed. the overalls we were provided with in the pursuance of this were rarely close-fitting. infact i think it possible my entire wardrobe of corporate work clothes had been measured for two of me rather than the skinny, long-haired beanpole who had signed the contract. thus, pocket space for a small science fiction magazine could not have been descrived as restricted.

sadly those unfettered and irresponsible days are long gone, but surprisingly enough, analog magazine still exists; it is now possible (and i know because i have done so) to download a version for kindle directly from amazon's tax avoiding website. though i have done little to no research on the subject, i have not come across any other publication of similar format, that combines superlative writing in short bursts with a physical format that allows for easy portability and the opportunity to read at a moment's notice without electronic hi-definition assistance. at least not until now.

"One day over Christmas last year, it struck me that such a format would work perfectly for cycling, as there are more than enough excellent writers. I ran it past Daniel Friebe, who told me that Ellis Bacon was working on a very similar concept for the web. I talked to Ellis and our ideas were so similar it seemed to make perfect sense to join forces to produce a book." the words are those of lionel birnie, progenitor of 'the cycling anthology' and co-editor along with the aforementioned ellis bacon. the format seems stunningly obvious now that someone has actually had the foresight and fortitude to bring it to fruition.

"Ellis and I met, drew up our list of potential contributors and pitched the idea to them. Everyone was keen, although I'm sure it represented a bit of a risk to get involved with a new project without seeing what we were capable of coming up with.
"I think two factors appealed to people. It is being run as a co-operative. (So my company isn't hoovering up all the profits in the traditional way. Instead each contribution is worth an equal share of any profit). And the brief was intentionally loose. We asked people to come up with their own ideas and execute them their own way. That's a freedom that very few people get in their regular work."

it's a format and successful first issue that i think would be hard for any right-minded cycling obsessive to dismiss out of hand. with contributions from both bacon and birnie, they are joined by the likes of will and alasdair fotheringham, richard moore, david millar, jeremy whittle, kenny pryde and daniel friebe. i have listed those only for starters, for i think it possible that amongst the fifteen contributors, those are perhaps the best known. and in a manner similar to taking actors out of their more usual context and allowing them greater freedoms with a script and stage, the writers' contributions are startlingly original and a joy to behold. and as i have paid testament to above, it is an anthology more than easy to read snippets of when the notion or available time allows.

so far, i have not read two sequential chapters.

your £7.99, however, buys you not only 272 pages of literary excellence, but a cover design that is so apt, that i find myself fervently hoping that issue two in may of next year retains not only the same format, but the same illustrator (simon scarsbrook) and title lettering. if anything will sell this volume prior to perusing the contents, it's scarsbrook's illustrative skills. "The cover is supposed to have a 'house style'. As the collection grows (hopefully), they will all look like they are part of the same stable, while retaining a distinctive individual look. We didn't want the cover to necessarily reflect the content. Again, we didn't dictate to Simon Scarsbrook; we just chatted about the book for a bit and left him to it." i can think of few similar concepts that have so successfully fulfilled their ideals.

"The concept is to create a series of collectible paperbacks that hark back to the days when you'd stuff a Penguin paperback in a deep coat pocket for a walk to school or uni. Something to be pulled out and read on a train or bus or while waiting for a friend in a pub. The format is deliberate. A slightly smaller size so it doesn't take up loads of shelf space."

it seems almost trite to list the subject matter covered by the various authors, for in truth, the words are truly subservient to the skills of their writer. left to their own devices, they have brought to light narratives i doubt you will find anywhere else on the planet. edward pickering sings the praises of tommy voeckler, one of the last practisers of panache in the world of formula 1 cycle racing; richard moore considers how the great robert millar would have fared had he found himself in team sky; owen slot details the conflict that pervaded the relationship between vicky pendleton and anna meares and jeremy whittle examines the lance armstrong legacy as it affected the recent performances of brad wiggins and team sky.

i'm hoping that this initial offering is so unbelievably well received, that messrs birnie and bacon reconsider their decision to publish only twice a year. i know that ned boulting read his copy in one sitting; i have rationed myself in the light of the knowledge that issue two will not appear until may 2013, and i think it more than possible most other purchasers will have thumbed their own copies into submission by now. six months is a long time to harbour uncontrolled anticipation.

the cycling anthology can be purchased direct from or from mick and andy at prendas

thursday 29th november 2012


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